The last I checked in with The Home Depot Foundation, the fabulous philanthropic arm of everybody’s favorite home improvement store, it was back in May when the organization launched the Sustainable Cities Institute at the 18th meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Now, The Home Depot Foundation (THDF) in partnership with Habitat for Humanity International, is narrowing its focus from sustainable cities to sustainable, affordable homes with yesterday’s announcement of the 2010 Partners in Sustainable Building grantees.

Launched in 2009, Partners in Sustainable Building has an admirable goal: to build 5,000 affordable green homes within five years. Thus far, 1,500 homes built under the eco-auspices of the program have been completed and in 2010-2011, THDF aims to build 2,400 more. Through the program, 135 Habitat for Humanity affiliates across 42 states (see the complete list here) will be granted $3,000 for each home built to EnergyStar standards and $5,000 for each home built to a more rigorous green building standard.

Home Depot Foundation president Kelly Caffarelli elaborates on the mission of Partners in Sustainable Building in an official press release:

We believe that healthy homes are the building blocks for thriving, affordable and environmentally sound communities. Through our partnership with Habitat for Humanity, we are focused on bringing the practical financial and health benefits of green building and maintenance to families of modest incomes. By showing that green building and efficient maintenance of a home can truly keep more money in a family’s wallet, we also hope this effort has a ripple effect on all homeowners nationwide.
And in a post published yesterday on her THDF blog, Caffarelli gets personal and details the reality of affordable green homes:  
I’m so proud of this initiative, because it’s having a real impact on families’ health and their ability to save money each month. For instance, in St. Louis, Missouri a homeowner saved so much in utility bills that she was able to purchase everything her children needed for the new school year, an annual expense she could not previously afford. And in Grayson County Texas after months of 100+ degree temperatures, a homeowner reported that her highest electric bill was only $100. These kinds of savings are real and can often mean the difference between making the ends meet each month or not.

When we started down this housing path, many were skeptical that we could help non-profits build homes that were ‘green’ and affordable. I think that’s because when people hear the term ‘green building,’ most think of really expensive homes covered with solar panels, bamboo floors, or metal exteriors that make them look like spaceships. In other words, homes that most people wouldn’t want to live in or can’t afford to build.

But our definition of a ‘green building’ is different. For us, a ‘green building’ is simply one built with environmentally friendly materials such as nontoxic insulation, caulk and paint, and that uses water-saving faucets and energy-efficient appliances. And since our primary goal is to provide homes for working families, we want these ‘green’ homes to be affordable to own and maintain over the long term.

Caffarelli brings up an excellent point in the last paragraph: if THDF's budget-conscious definition of "green building" has found a successful niche within Partners in Sustainable Building, why aren't more homeowners installing energy- and water-saving fixtures and building/remodeling with nontoxic materials? If The Home Depot Foundation and Habitat for Humanity can and will continue to do it on a widespread level, why can't we all? What's holding us back? 

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